Wigs and gowns worn by lawyers and judges in court prevent many people from using the courts to seek redress because they are intimidating, the Executive Director of the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), Mr Augustine Niber, has said.
He has, therefore, advocated strongly that they are not worn in courtrooms so that all categories of people would be able to access justice through the courts.
“I am fully aware of the importance of the wig and the gown to the legal profession in Ghana, but I believe that if we are able to do away with the wearing of the wig and the gown in our courts, we will be taking away a greater part of the intimidation and fear that often characterise our courtrooms,” he said.
Mr Niber was speaking at the launch of three booklets that provided simplified guidelines for accessing justice in the courts and at the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
The launch was performed by the Associate Executive Director of Wacam, Mrs Hannah Owusu-Koranteng. She lauded CEPIL’s effort in producing the guidelines and said she was also intimidated the first time she appeared in court.
The three booklets were produced by CEPIL, with financial support from Star-Ghana, as part of a project titled: “Access to Justice for the Poor and Marginalised in Society.”
Support was also received from UKaid, USAID, the EU and Danish Development Organisation (Danida).
Factors hindering access to justice
According to Mr Niber, apart from financial constraints which prevent most people from hiring the services of a lawyer and paying of legal fees, the lack of awareness of court processes and procedures barred many people from doing so.
He said these had been made worse by the technical language and the intimidating nature of the justice system.
“Justice systems that are remote, unaffordable, slow, or incomprehensible to the public effectively deny legal protection,” he pointed out.
Mr Niber said CEPIL’s work with the marginalised in society showed that many of them would be able to access justice on their own if the processes and procedures at institutions were written in everyday English devoid of very technical legal jargons.
Confirming the lack of access to Ghana’s justice system, a Deputy Director at CHRAJ, Mr Samuel A. Bosompem, said out of 12,000 cases that came before the commission every year, about 80 per cent were resolved through alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
He urged all to be interested in human rights issues and not to think that such issues did not concern them.
“Your right to swing your arm stops where another’s nose begins,” he said.
Institutionalise pro-bono cases
The Chairman for the ceremony, Mr Gabriel Pwamang, a lawyer at CEPIL, recommended the institutionalisation of free legal services for the marginalised and poor, as a requirement for renewal of legal licences.
He said such a step would enable the marginalised that did not have access to justice to get the services of lawyers all the time.